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By Josephine Nickel Leaupepe

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, May 26) – The Samoa Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is investigating alleged illegal logging of indigenous timber – "ifilele" - by chiefs and orators of the Gagaifoimauga constituency on the island of Savaii.

Chief Executive Tuu'u Ieti Taulealo late yesterday said the constituency does not have a permit for logging of ifilele nor had the chiefs and orators applied for one.

He explained that the law requires logging of customary lands for commercial use to be licensed by the ministry.

He pointed out that at the moment, Samoa has very little native timber to go around for local logging. He estimated that Savai'i's logging rate has only three to five years left in it.

"Extra logging would mean less years left," he said.

Tuu'u said that although the village are already committed to replanting the ifilele, they only began doing so last year.

Tuu'u said: "This is not sufficient enough, besides he himself announced on television that they've been logging for 40 years. This means, they don't have enough trees to log 5-6 containers a month. There's nothing left to log anymore."

Project leader La'auli Leuatea Schmidt had earlier announced during their press conference that they now have a permit to log ifilele.

He also announced that work to fill the first container for shipment on 16 June is already underway.

He said they hope to log five to six containers a month in the following months. One container, if sold locally, is worth $5000 to $6000 a month, he said.

But one exported container is worth $22,000, Tahitian timber importer Jean-Jacques Jorda said.

Mr Jorda is in Apia to sign the agreement between his company and the village (represented by La'auli).

This agreement was expected to be signed yesterday.

La'auli, when asked about whether they've acquired a permit to log the area, said that they're using the permit the village is bound to with Strickland Brothers.

He added that they received their own separate permit yesterday morning, with the full assurance from the Minister, Tuisugaletaua Aveau Sofara Aveau. La'auli said the Minister was thrilled with the project and the benefits it has in store for the village.However, Tuu'u said this isn't the way that these things are done.

Tuu'u said the permit mentioned by La'auli was only permitted for Strickland Brothers to log fallen ifilele trees from Cyclone Heta, for commercialisation.

"They have to get their own permit," said Tuu'u.

He said the proper procedure would be for La'auli and chiefs of his village to visit their office and discuss the matter with them.

La'auli said they've invited Mr Jorda to sign an agreement for the exportation of ifilele and 20 other Samoan species of tropical hardwood sawn timber to French Polynesia.

He said Mr Jorda has agreed not only to ifilele but also to Rain Tree (Tamaligi Palagi), Maa'li, Mamala, kava, and gasu.

Mr Jorda, La'auli said, is the Managing Director and owner of a company named Polybois S.A, which is a well-known supplier of timber to the building industry throughout French Polynesia.

La'auli told the media that he is supervising this for his district, as there's clearly a lot that can be gained from exporting Samoa's native trees.

"This would benefit our villagers directly," he said.

June 6, 2005

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